World-beating excellence, the editorial by Franco Michienzi

Every day, despite the various issues they face, the firms that produce yacht components keep the authentic and world-leading Italian manufacturing sector alive

by Francesco Michienzi

A SUPPLIER OF YACHTING MATERIALS – AND AVID READER OF THIS MAGAZINE – WROTE ME THE FOLLOWING MESSAGE: Hello, I would like to invite you, as conscientious and professional journalists, to do your duty and fulfil the vitally important role of keeping the boating world informed. Please do not limit yourselves to unquestioningly copy-and-pasting verbose press releases that all look alike, praising record sales and revenue and describing how the exceptional sales figures mean waiting until 2023 for new boats. Instead, try doing a bit of investigative journalism. We have reached a critical situation in the supply of materials. Leading shipyards are sending us orders now for delivery in June 2022 because they fear being left without a supplier. And we have heard about other boat producers that are slowing down or even stopping production lines due to a lack of components and telling their staff to stay at home. We received a worrying email this week from the head of procurement at a major international shipyard: “Our situation is dramatic… we are being hit from each side, materials, labour cost, delays, penalties. We have 40 boats in production and we are losing money on most of them. It is a true nightmare for shipyards that have sold boats with fixed pricing”.

I was very hesitant about publishing this heartfelt plea regarding the lack of virtues among nautical journalists. But then I thought about my colleagues who received punches during the protests about the Italian Covid-19 ‘Green Pass’ system and reasoned that the attributing of magical problem-solving powers to journalists is commonplace. We describe what we see and the facts we confirm. The plea sent to our reader was written in English, so it can’t have been from one of the Italian shipbuilding groups. The statistics supplied in press releases will be easy to check in the medium term. The topic of supplies of components and raw materials, meanwhile, is one we have tackled recently.

Small and medium-sized businesses in the Italian boating industry have had to change to overcome crises and innovate, as the scope of the market widens.

We have visited various companies and shipyards over the last few months and we were pleased to see that many of them, which probably once worked exclusively with Asian countries, have found new solutions to the issues with their usual suppliers’ by focusing more on companies with a philosophy of sourcing from within Italy. Two examples of firms that make everything in Italy are Quick and Foresti & Suardi, both of which have increased their turnover by over 45% in the past year. Italy, don’t forget, is the leading company in Europe in terms of the number of people employed by micro-producers or small manufacturing companies: 367,000 companies with 1.967 million workers, and 241,000 craft businesses employing 919,000 workers.

Italy excels in the production of boat components because it continues to find design and construction solutions that are unparalleled anywhere else in the world. At these businesses, which employ a few dozen members of staff, processes are only partially automated, and it is the skill of each individual that ensures the high-quality standards requested are maintained. Growing numbers of Italian and foreign shipyards are choosing not only the high quality of Italian products but also the professionalism of the businesses, the ethical working practices, and the rules designed to protect everyone’s wellbeing, especially the craftspeople, who are the true architects of their success.

Creating boat components is an ancient art that stems from the expertise of an individual and the prior experience of their peers. Business owners in the boating industry are the guardians of knowledge andwisdom and creators of new value.

Along with these positive signs, there are also heightened fears surrounding price rises caused by the higher costs of purchasing raw materials, with particularly significant effects on small businesses. Many suppliers of Italian-made boating accessories have stocked up on materials, assuming that boat sales will continue to do well. There is a certain amount of risk in these investments, but, given the way demand is going the risk should not be too great, although it is always best to be cautious. We should be full of admiration for those business owners who have managed to overcome repeated crises over the years, and who, as a result of their constant searching for solutions to technical, economic, and financial problems, are now able to tackle complex situations like the one we face today.

(World-beating excellence – Barchemagazine.com – December 2021)